Merlin Mobility Foundation


The Merlin Prize

Designing 21st-century personal vehicles for people with disabilities.

Challenge Overview



The MerlinPrize (“the Challenge”) for accessible autonomous electric vehicles (A2EV) is a crowd-sourced design competition to generate innovative and inclusive transportation solutions for people with physical, sensory, and/or cognitive disabilities. Automotive industry experts predict that electric vehicles (EVs) will surpass the number of gas-powered vehicles on the road in the coming decades, and virtually all autonomous vehicles are electric. Unfortunately, adapting an EV to make it accessible by individuals that require a fixed-frame electric wheelchair or scooter to date has been cost-prohibitive due to the extensive reconfiguration of critical components required to permit ingress and egress. The goal of this challenge is to change this equation and make autonomous, electric vehicles accessible for all. The focus of the Challenge is to develop accessible, autonomous electric vehicles that function as personal vehicles.

An individual in a wheelchair might require a ramp, while a person with low vision might rely on enhanced auditory alerts. The length of a prosthetic leg controls the need for legroom so that a prosthesis can reach the floor without causing pain, and the level of hearing loss drives the demand of an individual’s more tactile and visual senses. Car manufacturers are currently struggling to evolve from their reliance on gas-powered to more sustainable, electric vehicles, and they are unlikely to spend the required resources to develop inclusive solutions to fit the needs of people with disabilities.

The objective of this Challenge is to change this equation and make autonomous, electric vehicles accessible for all. This Challenge will award a total prize purse of USD 35,000. Winners and semi-finalists will also receive an invitation to participate in The Merlin Venture Accelerator (see below for description).

Your Challenge

Design the future of mobility for people with physical, sensory, and/or cognitive disabilities.

  • Category 1: Submit a technically mature design for an autonomous, electric passenger vehicle that can accommodate a wheelchair or electric scooter in both the driver and passenger position and capable of operating at highway speeds. The design may be for an entirely new vehicle or an adaptation of an existing or soon to be released vehicle. Ingress and egress should meet the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and be at a Technical Readiness Level (TRL) of five or higher. If the design is based on the adaptation of an existing vehicle, please be explicit. 
  • Category #2:  Submit any creative ideas that may solve the problem of providing transportation solutions for people with disabilities. This category includes, but is not limited to, ideation stage concepts that are ADA compliant with any physical, cognitive, or sensory disability in mind. This opportunity allows entrants to be as creative and innovative as possible! Examples include concepts for innovative seating, door handles, window controls, a steering wheel, or any new technology that can support the future of accessible EVs for people with disabilities. Applicants should consult the Americans with Disabilities Act and aim for the highest Technical Readiness Level possible.

The full guidelines and criteria will become available when the Challenge opens for submissions on July 26, 2020. Until then, please keep submitting your questions, and we will continue to curate answers for our FAQ section.


Why This Challenge Matters

Reducing transportation-related obstacles for older adults and people with disabilities will enable increased socio-economic opportunities and could save billions of dollars annually by allowing individuals to age in place. Everyone faces disability at some point, even if temporary, often as the result of injury, sickness, or aging. The World Bank estimates that approximately one billion people in the world have some form of disability. A disability can present a significant challenge to accessing transportation, which is usually a requirement for access to jobs, education, healthcare, and a high quality of life.

Despite the rapid technological advances over the past few decades, transportation options for people with disabilities—especially those requiring the use of wheelchairs—have not changed significantly. Vehicles are becoming increasingly autonomous and electric, which holds enormous potential to enable independence, equality, health, and social well-being of older adults and people with disabilities by offering independent mobility for daily activities. Yet virtually none of the designs for these emerging vehicles are accessible. Unless something changes, the most significant potential beneficiaries of this new technology will have no access to it.

One billion people experiencing some form of disability equates to approximately 15% of the world’s population. Are you ready to change the world?



  • Category #1 Winner will receive 25,000 USD.
  • Category #2: 1st place Winner will receive USD 6,000, 2nd place Winner will receive USD 3,000, and 3rd place winner will receive USD 1,000.
  • The Merlin Venture Accelerator: In addition to the monetary prizes listed above, top submissions will receive an invitation to participate in a Venture Accelerator, which will take place virtually. If selected, you will connect to experts with extensive industry experience that will help turn your design into a commercializable product or feature to be included as part of a larger project. This mentorship opportunity will also help expand your network and connections, leading to additional advancement in your career.


“We need to identify new ways to provide more efficient, affordable and accessible transportation services for people with disabilities, older adults and other underserved communities."

- US Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, in announcing the USDOT Inclusive Design Challenge

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